Between Marvel, DC, Star Wars and countless crossovers on television, shared universes are all the rage right now. While the general public may be aware of these famous connections, there’s one shared reality that everyone’s forgotten about. In the early 90s, NBC coined the term “Must See TV” and launched a lineup of hit shows that audiences wouldn’t want to miss. Some of these shows included Friends, Mad About You and the legendary Seinfeld.
What many people don’t know is that these television staples existed in the same universe. NBC had a slew of popular shows — overlapping the characters was the logical next step. TV crossovers were nothing new at the time, with The Flintstones meeting George Jetson and his family a decade earlier. However, NBC set out to do far more than a few cameos; they were creating a world where all their shows resided.
This hilarious connected reality began with Mad About You in Season 1, Episode 8 “The Apartment” when Paul Buchman debated giving up his old “bachelor pad” that he’d been subletting since marrying Jamie. When Paul arrived at his old stomping ground, he found none other than Seinfeld’s zany neighbor Cosmo Kramer. The two discussed the apartment while Kramer acted erratic as ever, and after some sage advice, Paul gifted the apartment to the TV icon. The two ended the interaction when Paul asked “Whatever happened to that Jerry guy?” and Kramer got meta by saying Jerry was writing a sitcom for NBC.
Mad About You continued to build this universe when it introduced scatterbrained waitress Ursula Buffay, portrayed by Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow would go on to star as fan-favorite Phoebe Buffay on Friends. NBC decided that was the perfect opportunity for another crossover, and the two characters were revealed to be twins. Joey Tribbiani dated Phoebe’s sister and Mad About You‘s Jamie and Fran confused Phoebe for Ursula when they visited Central Perk.
These crossovers jumped from small connections into a full-blown universe when NBC aired one of its most iconic marketing stunts, “Blackout Thursday,” in 1994. In order to promote all of its hit shows, the network decided to have a single major event affect each of the series’ new episodes. A blackout began when Jaime Buchman from Mad About You caused a city-wide power outage by fiddling with the cables on her roof. This caused all sorts of havoc that fueled the plots of the other sitcoms.
One notable repercussion of the blackout was in Friends when Chandler Bing was trapped in an ATM vestibule with supermodel Jill Goodacre. The event even impacted a lesser-known NBC sitcom, Madman of the People, when that show’s title character was busted for looting during the power surge. Seinfeld did not participate in the event, but its previous tie-in to Mad About You still connected it to the NBC universe.
This shared universe was far ahead of its time. Small cameos turned into a giant reality that all of NBC’s notable sitcoms lived within. Caroline Duffy from Caroline in the City appeared in Friends Season 2, Episode 6 “The One with the Baby on the Bus.” Frasier‘s breakout character Dr. Niles Crane, portrayed by David Hyde Pierce, made a cameo in Season 1 of Caroline in the City. And of course, Frasier was itself a spinoff of Cheers, adding those three shows to the same universe.
This complicated and hilarious universe kept growing as NBC continued to strike gold with their sitcoms. Most people look to Marvel as the greatest connected universe in entertainment, but NBC was doing the same thing before it was popular. This iconic set of crossovers took place well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe or any of TV’s current hit franchises — but it’s mostly faded into obscurity.